Anxiety Attacks at Night

At least half of the people who suffer from anxiety attacks during the day will suffer from anxiety attacks at night, also referred to as nocturnal anxiety. These generally occur in the beginning of the night, when you have just fallen asleep. They do not have anything to do with nightmares and are different. If you experience an anxiety attack at night, you may wake in a jolt and realise you are already in the middle of a panic attack. Such experiences can be frightening and will severely disrupt your sleep.

The symptoms of a nocturnal anxiety attack are similar to those of a normal anxiety attack, i.e. a rapid heartbeat, shaking, sweating, tightness in chest, confusion, extreme fear and panic, nausea, and a feeling of losing control. It is believed that the most common trigger of anxiety attacks at night is a common physical phenomenon called the hypnic jerk. The hypnic jerk is the sudden falling sensation that many people will experience as they are falling asleep. However, in persons who frequently experience anxiety attacks, the brain will think that this jerk is the start of an anxiety attack, and by anticipating the symptoms of such an attack, the brain actually starts a full blown panic attack.

There are some things you can do to control nocturnal anxiety. If you wake up feeling anxious, the first step is to open your eyes and breath in slowly, taking up to five seconds to inhale. Hold your breath for two seconds and exhale slowly over the course of five seconds. Notice the calmness in your body and make sure you are not tensing any muscles. Remind yourself that the hypnic jerk is a normal and harmless experience, and that nothing bad is going to happen to you. Once you overcome the initial anxiety, close your eyes and breath normally.

Although there aren’t things you can do to prevent the hypnic jerk, you can lower your general anxiety levels in your everyday life. Do not take on more work than you can handle, and make sure you find the time to do something pleasurable everyday. Do something relaxing before going to bed, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or watching some relaxing television. Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine as much as possible and if you smoke, quit. Try to get some exercise whenever you can, even if this simply means taking the stairs instead of the elevator and getting off the bus a bus stop earlier.